Can you spot a forgery?

Most people can’t, probably because art forgers can be damnably clever and bold. I’ve been reading The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick, a book full of intrigue and intriguing personalities, over part of my vacation.

In addition to tales of Hitler and his second-in-command Hermann Goering’s race to collect a Vermeer while ravaging Europe, Dolnick includes the fascinating story of Abraham Kuffner. Kuffner was a painter in the early 19th C. who realized the importance of using old materials when creating a fake as well as maintaining a impressive provenance. In 1799, the city of Nuremberg graciously (foolishly…) agreed to lend him it’s prized Albrecht Durer self portrait for the artist to copy.

Kuffner did more than copy the work. This painting was done on a wood panel an inch thick, and the back of it was spangled with seals and marks of past owners. Kuffner simply sawed it into two halves; one half contains Durer’s self-portrait and the other half the seals. He produces his copy onto the original wood panel, and sends his fake back to the city on the original board it came. Nobody noticed the difference, and Kuffner had his very own Durer.

Nuremberg did eventually find out that it’s famous Durer was simultaneously on display in Munich–6 years later Kuffner had sold the real Durer.

Ravels in Review Friday

Hello bloggy reader! And welcome to another installment of Ravels in Review Friday. Although stupefied that on this Spring day snow is falling, I shall persevere. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor internet connection problems shall keep the blogger away.

We really were well-rounded artworld citizens this week, as we jumped from an informative post on Albrecht Durer’s painting, which drew some admiring glances of the basest kind from readers, to current topics such as how fashion is (not!) art and whether public art becomes part of the landscape. (If art needs to be on a gallery or museum wall to be recognized as art, what does that say about the nature of art?) Then we had some laughs with the stellar cast of Blithe Spirit, currently playing at the Shubert Theater.

Lastly, but certainly not leastly, we have a video of Art Ravels on a trip to MoMA for the Martin Kippenberger exhibition! It’s very exciting: there’s music; there’s lights; there’s my voiceover; there’s some shaky camera work. Let me know how you think it ranks next to another Martin Kippenberger at MoMA video.

Also, I would like to do another art video adventure. Does anyone have suggestions on where I should go?

Albrecht Durer

Self-portrait of 1493, artist aged 22

Albrecht Durer (1471 – 1528) doesn’t get the attention those great Renaissance Italians do, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello. Yet Durer did more that just woodcuts; he reinvented what was possible with woodcuts, but was also a remarkable draftsman and painter.

Self-Portrait of 1498, artist aged 26

Although traditional in style, Durer brought a tirelessly innovativion to his work, and is known for merging the Italian style with the German. Born in soon-to-be Protestant Nuremburg, Durer was a humanist in the vein of Martin Luther and was one of it’s first artist-gentleman, so to speak (rather than artist-craftsman).

Self-Portrait of 1500, artist aged 28 (and yes, he knew he looked like Jesus)

Durer’s woodcuts were widely disseminated and successful. He also produced some very modern watercolors (at a time when other artists used crayon and paper). Durer was among the first to sign his sketches rather than consider them so much wastepaper. He also painted portraits, like the ones of himself above, but also of other individuals, large religious scenes, and some singularly beautiful works of pieces of turf and animals. More and more Durer tried to capture the secret of natural beauty. Interestingly, he disliked painting commissions because they paid so little compared to the amount of work involved.

Durer’s paintings were work-intensive. He had a painstaking method of going over the colors again and again so that they have the luminosity of tempura, and the really pure colors he used highlight this. He insisted upon revarnishing the canvases himself when they got dry, because he used a special good wax that didn’t yellow as it aged. He painted for things to last forever. While his painting method changed as he grew more successful and had assistants help him with his larger compositions, it remains exemplary of the enormous amount of attention he devoted to his craft.

Adam and Eve, 1507

Durer’s placement of the couple as nudes facing each other on a dark background become a popular style of depicting Adam and Eve (and the ideal human proportions) was later used by Cranach, among others.